Lifestyle of J&K Gujjars

Chatpal, Kashmir, India

Shamsher Hakla Poonchi
Anthropologists in India have defined the Gujjars as of fair complexion, long nose, and tall, long head and wide forehead. The Gujjars hold fast to their religion but their outlook is secular. The Gujjar community at present living in Himalaya was once the holder of crown and kingdom but now it is roaming in forests and hills. These people are backward in comparison to the developed communities. They are homeless and landless wondering in the open. Other people live as social beings but these people live around quadrupeds all their life time. They do not have any house but only a tent and that tent is also made of several old pieces of cloth. Inside the tent there is family, tired and burdened by life’s chores. Children are lying naked and crying. They have kept some handmade woolen clothes. One wonders if their hardships are known to the world. The old man weakened due to sickness is lying inside the tent or “KOTHA ” in old dirty clothes and coughing. The Kotha is all smoke. Eyes are swollen with smoke.Their animals are scattered over the hills and can get killed by harsh climate.
Now, let us study their life patern which is quit unplanned.I think it will be better if I start it from my own state Jammu and Kashmir.Geographically, we divide our J&K State into three parts namely Jammu , Kashmir and Ladakh. Leaving behind occupied places, there are twenty two districts in our State. Apart from Ladakh Division Gujjars are to be found in each and every District of the State. But majority of the Gujjars is dwelling in Rajouri and Poonch Districts of J&K State.
In overall population of the State, Gujjars are living in lakhs of numbers in J&K State divided in three tribes, settled, half-settled and homeless Gujjars.
The settled Gujjars are those who are settled at one place and staying in villages and they do agriculture pursuits. Half settled Gujjars are those who though live in villages and do agriculture profession but for six months of summer they leave for Peer Panjal Gujjar Region with their cattle where pastures are available to graze on. From centuries these people are living in the laps of hills. And on the banks of rivers. Some of Gujjars of Jammu and Kathua are big farmers.
The homeless Gujjars can be divided in two tribes, Dodhi Gujjars and Bakerwal Gujjars.
Dodhi Gujjars-In Jammu and Kashmir State one tribe of Gujjars is known as ‘Dodhi ‘ or ‘Banyara ‘ Gujjars.These people keep buffaloes and lead a nomadic life. In summer season, these people stay in Reasi,Udhampur and Kathua’s lower areas. Some Dodhi Gujjars go up to Pathankot and Gurdaspur also. When the summer sets in , these people start moving to the heights of Himalaya where green grass is available sufficiently for their cattle. They sell milk and ghee for their sustenance. Bakerwal Gujjars, other tribe of the homeless Gujjars is known as Bakarwal Gujjars. These people mainly keep sheep and goats besides other animals and these are their main sources of livelihood. As this tribe mainly rears sheep and goats, hence it is named as Bakarwal. There are about 28 lakhs Gujjars in J&K State, in which the Bakarwal Gujjars are more than 6 lakhs. In appearance these people are well built and handsome and they are also brave and hospitable. Previously, all these were homeless but now, some of them have their own houses and have started to lead a life with permanent settlement at a place.The sub-castes of these Gujjars are also same as the other Gujjars are having,like Hakla,Bajjar,Kohli, Chechi, Khatana,Badhana,Bagdi, Goosi, and Kalas etc.etc.These people lead nomadic life. For example ,when these people move from one place to another place, they form groups first in such a way that they will remain together sub-caste- and there will be one group of Khatana,the other group of Hakla and the other one of Kohli and so on. Every person likes to remain with his own tribe. Their feuds and litigations also take place on clan basis.They are full of oneness and friendship. They are quite confident about friendship and enemity. Bakerwals do not construct a house to live permanently in them. Whatever may be called their house is tent only. It is being prepared with the cloth and some small sticks and rope lengths. With these tent can be pitched within a few months.They take their clothes and household articles from one place to another by loading on horses.Mostly,each family keeps about 400 sheep,100 goats,6 to 8 horses 4-5 dogs and 2-3 hens. Bakerwals usually do not keep buffaloes and cows.Women of this tribe wear home stitched caps. These people wear the shoe of quite a strong type which is called’Jooti’ fixed with iron keels at the bottom and are quite weighty.
As far as the life of settled and half settled Gujjars of J&K State, is concerned,they construct their houses permanently and stay in them but they do agriculture and after winter months, they leave for Peer Panjal alongwith their belongings as there they can have sufficient grazing fields for their cattle.These people’s way of life is different from Bakerwals.In all fields of life, Gujjars are quite behind.During this period of science & technology,when communities are taking very active part in the developments, these people are lying far behind due to illiteracy and backwardness, because these people are living far away from the life of civilization on the heights of hills.They are also the victims of lack of self confidence, and do not proceed forward in the field of development alongwith other section of society.The benefits of education have not reached them.
They wear black and blue coloured clothes,shalwar and qameez of blue,black and green colours.Some Gujjars wear trousers and loincloth(tehband ) ofthe same colours. They wear turban of white or dark-brown colour on their heads.
Gujjars possess their own panchayat which is called ‘Jerga’ .This is a body comprising some old,honest and responsible persons of the community.
They decide their matters,keeping in view the welfare and prosperity of their tribe. Most of the litigations are based on grazing fields and women and off and on the incidents of theft and murder are also being reported.For six months of summer, they go to the heights of hills and for winter months they move down to the plains. In this unsettled life it is very difficult for those people to educate their children. So these people cannot compete with other communities in the field of education and are far behind is respect of education for centuries. Though the Govt. of Jammu and Kashmir State has opened the Mobile School for these nomadic Gujjars but even then the education rate of these people has not improved. But in J&K State ever since Gujjar Sub-Plan and besides other schemes of educational facilities like Gujjar Hostels constructed at district HQ level most of the people have been attracted to engage their children in studies. Apart from this with the efforts of Social Committees and other prosperous people of the Gujjar Bakarwal Community, people have started to send their children to schools. Now a good number of people are receiving education. Most of the Gujjars, after receiving education have joined good posts.
In April 19, 1991, The Govt. of India while recognizing the backwardness of Gujjar Bakarwal community of Jammu and Kashmir state declared them as scheduled tribe. The president of India granted scheduled tribe status by way of ordinance No. 03 of 1991 under article 342 of the Indian constitution to them.